The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Education

The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Education

The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Education

The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Education


This collection brings together many of the world's leading sociologists of education to explore and address key issues and concerns within the discipline. The thirty-seven newly commissioned chapters draw upon theory and research to provide new accounts of contemporary educational processes, global trends, and changing and enduring forms of social conflict and social inequality.

The research, conducted by leading international scholars in the field, indicates that two complexly interrelated agendas are discernible in the heat and noise of educational change over the past twenty-five years. The first rests on a clear articulation by the state of its requirements of education. The second promotes at least the appearance of greater autonomy on the part of educational institutions in the delivery of those requirements. The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Educationexamines the ways in which the sociology of education has responded to these two political agendas, addressing a range of issues which cover three key areas:

  • perspectives and theories
  • social processes and practices
  • inequalities and resistances.

The book strongly communicates the vibrancy and diversity of the sociology of education and the nature of 'sociological work' in this field. It will be a primary resource for teachers, as well as a title of major interest to practising sociologists of education.


The sociology of education is a diverse, messy, dynamic, somewhat elusive and invariably disputatious field of work. Reflecting this Lather (1988) suggests that the names that sociologists use to represent themselves are best referred to in the plural – feminisms, phenomenologies, Marxisms, postmodernisms. The sociology of education is produced by a disparate and varied group of researchers, writers and teachers, who are variously invested in national traditions of study with different histories – although there is a marked convergence of topics, methods and perspectives in relation and in response to globalization (see below). The ‘communications heavy, travel-based, market dependent’ (Marginson and Considine, 2000: 48) world of higher education and the increased extent of co-mingling of scholars, as well as the global reach of multinational publishing houses, have established the conditions for ideas and theories to flow easily between sites of academic work, in the same way as in other fields – but also to flow in particular directions.

Nonetheless, the sociology of education continues to be marked by theoretical fissures, discontinuities and sometimes-acrimonious paradigm disputes. As one of us (Apple, 1996b: 125) put it in a review of sociology of education in the United States: ‘what actually counts as the sociology of education is a construction’. That construction is an outcome of ideological and very practical struggles and is marked by differences in power and in resources. This collection is itself inevitably an act of construction: a drawing-up of boundaries, a marking-off of divisions, oppositions and positions, a ‘carving up and carving out’ (Edwards, 1996). It is not a ‘policing action’ (Apple 1996b), but, on the other hand, it is by no means an ‘innocent’ text. We did not set out deliberately to fashion a purist or definitive version of the field, quite the opposite, but the inclusions and exclusions and neglects announced by the collection will have something of that effect, and we discuss these later.

We can use sociological tools to think about the field of sociological practice. In Bernstein’s terms, sociology, in common with other social sciences, has a ‘horizontal knowledge structure’, which consists of ‘a series of specialized languages with specialized modes of interrogation and criteria for the construction and circulation of texts’ (Bernstein, 1999: 162) which have no principles of integration. These specialized languages and their theoretical idiolects are ‘not translatable’ (p. 163) he argues, their speakers are exclusive, and their relations are serial. Thus . . .

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